State Department defends Arafat

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Finds no link to Achille Lauro hijacking, murders of U.S. diplomats.

An official U.S. State Department spokesman has vigorously defended Yasser Arafat against reports he ordered the 1973 kidnapping and execution-style machine-gun murders of U.S. Ambassador to Sudan Cleo Noel and Charges d'Affaires George Curtis Moore, and was responsible for the 1985 Achille Lauro cruise ship hijacking and murder of wheelchair-bound American Leon Klinghoffer.

Gregory W. Sullivan, deputy director of press affairs for the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, defended Arafat in an angry e-mail to Minneapolis attorney Scott W. Johnson, who penned an opinion piece on Arafat's history of targeting Americans for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune in June.

In his article, Johnson had recounted just some of the well-documented evidence linking Arafat to those crimes and others, and the State Department's continued whitewashing of Arafat's record. Prior to publication of the article, he sought comment from Sullivan.

In an e-mail exchange obtained by WorldNetDaily, Johnson wrote June 7: "Dear Mr. Sullivan: I have been leaving messages with you and other department officers over the past day or two seeking any information about department efforts to bring to justice Yasser Arafat and others involved in the 1973 assassination of former American Ambassador to Sudan ... Cleo Noel and his charge d'affaires, George Cullis (sic) Moore. Attached is the op-ed style piece I have written on the subject, including criticism of the department for its apparent inaction over the past 10 years regarding its own former officers. If my assertions regarding the department's inaction are wrong, I would like to rewrite the piece to make it accurate. I wonder if you would be willing to take a moment to review the piece and provide me with any information on behalf of the department if I am mistaken. I intend to circulate the piece for publication at the end of the day today. Many thanks for your consideration. Scott W. Johnson."

Later that day, Sullivan responded: "I can't say I'm impressed with your research or argumentation. You're obviously writing a piece designed to elicit a certain reaction rather than one based on factual accounts or actual comments made by the U.S. government. I really don't have the time to do the research for you, but I do find myself compelled to point out two factual errors on which you base much of your argument:

"1) The Palestine Liberation Front, a group that broke away from the PFLP-GC, was the terrorist group that conducted the Achille Lauro hijacking and the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, not the P.L.O.

"2) Evidence clearly points to the terrorist group Black September as having committed the assassinations of Amb. Noel and George Moore, and though Black September was a part of the Fatah movement, the linkage between Arafat and this group has never been established.

"If you're interested in constructive discussion of Mr. Arafat's role in the violence and terror that has plagued the region, I'd be happy to discuss with you further, but from what I've seen of your work, and the low regard you have for the U.S. government, I suspect you're not."

In fact, The Palestine Liberation Front is still, to this day, one of the organizations embodied within the umbrella of Arafat's PLO, according to the PLO's own website explaining its mission as a permanent United Nations observer.

With regard to Arafat's direct involvement in the 1973 murders, the case is even more compelling, as WorldNetDaily's own reporting has shown.

In early 2001, WorldNetDaily broke the story of the former National Security Agency operative, James J. Welsh, who claims to be a witness to a communication intercept involving the killings. Welsh was the NSA's Palestinian analyst at the time.

On Feb. 28, 1973, Welsh says he was summoned by a colleague about a communication intercepted from Arafat involving an imminent Black September operation in Khartoum.

Within minutes, Welsh recalls, the director of the NSA was notified and the decision was made to send a rare "FLASH" message – the highest priority – to the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum via the State Department.

But the message didn't reach the embassy in time. Somewhere between the NSA and the State Department, someone decided the warning was too vague. The alert was downgraded in urgency.

The next day, eight members of Black September, part of Arafat's Fatah organization, stormed the Saudi embassy in Khartoum, took Noel, Moore and others hostage. A day later, on March 2, 1973, Noel, Moore and Eid were machine-gunned to death – all, Welsh charges, on the direct orders of Arafat.

Welsh, who left the Navy and NSA in 1974, speaking publicly for the first time to WorldNetDaily, accused the U.S. government of a 29-year-old cover-up of Arafat's role in the planning and execution of the attack.

"Over the years I have kept my silence about what I know about this tragic episode," Welsh told WorldNetDaily. "But recently I began to wonder how recent administrations could overlook something as terrible as this in our dealings with Yasser Arafat."

Later, a long-buried Central Intelligence Agency report, found in the National Archives by a historian chronicling President Nixon's career, showed the agency, former Secretary of State William Rogers and many other officials were aware of Arafat's involvement in the 1973 murders of two U.S. diplomats by Arab terrorists.

The files were discovered by Russ Braley, author of "Bad News: The Foreign Policy of The New York Times" and a Nixon researcher who has plumbed the National Archives "Nixon Project," created when Congress took control of the late president's papers, for bits of information about the administration not released to the general public and press.

Sullivan, the same State Department spokesman on Middle East affairs, agreed at the time to look at the latest documents brought to his attention by WorldNetDaily but said his understanding of the 1973 incident was that links to Arafat were not conclusive.

"My understanding is that there was never conclusive evidence," he said. "I'm unaware of any proof, so I would not want to speculate on how it would affect policy."

Sullivan never got back to WorldNetDaily and calls to the White House press office at the time went unreturned.

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